(Yeah, I know it's been a long while since I wrote something. :-)
If you go back a few decades in most western cultures, there was a time when most people knew something about God and His law. They may not have believed upon Jesus Christ but nevertheless they would tend towards the view that there is a God and would have known something of the Ten Commandments. In that context you could preach the gospel by reminding people of God's law and getting them to see they had broken it. You could then explain how Jesus had perfectly kept God's law and had been crucified for their sins. You could then urge them to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, assuring them that their sins will be forgiven and that they will be saved from eternal damnation (hell). Of course all was not rosy in the church garden, a decline had already begun in the 19th century with the advent of enlightenment thinking which claimed that science had all the answers and that man didn't need God or religion any more. Nevertheless, basic knowledge of the bible was widespread and the gospel could be presented this way.
Today it can no longer be assumed that people have even the most basic bible knowledge. In fact, western culture now seems to generate people who are predisposed to be opposed to Christianity - despite knowing very little about it. The irony is that, at the same time, the enlightenment thinking that led to the decline of traditional western Christianity is increasingly being rejected. God is no longer "dead", contra-Freidrich Nietzsche. Powerful arguments against aggressive opponents of Christianity such as Richard Dawkins are beginning to be raised from non-Christian philosophers. Soon Dawkins and his ilk will be 'dead'. (Unfortunately much of the church, as ever behind the times, doesn't see this so they're still expending their efforts vainly trying to counter Dawkins, disprove evolution and so on. In effect, relying on science instead of the Gospel.)
Though spirituality is good again, the 'god' that now 'reigns' in people's minds is manifold. At the centre, of course, is 'me'. What matters most are my feelings, my wants, my needs and my rights. Materialism, fame, self-gratification and wanton sex are the gods we worship. Just add in a bit of Oprah or some self-help pop-psychology with a hint of eastern mysticism to complete the mix. Relativism and pragmatism (what works for me) is the order of the day. Now spirituality is fine. Just as long as you don't make any exclusive claims of course. So is that it? After thousands of years on the earth, is that the pinacle of man's ability to answer the most fundamental questions like why are we here? or what happens when we die? Seems so!
So just how do we present the gospel in this context? How do we present the gospel in a way which engages with people? In a way which is relevant to the culture? The old ways just don't work. How do we engage with people in a way which isn't going to result in them immediately switching off? I say we need to listen to people, without confronting them, to understand two things:
- why they think Christianity has nothing to say to them, and
- what matters to them.
Increasingly with postmoderns, in understanding why they have dismissed Christianity, we find that the reason given isn't because they think science has disproved Christianity. Rather, they will have fundamental intellectual and philosophical reasons why they have dismissed it. Often, we'll find that what they have dismissed is not the gospel but religion. Religion teaches that we must do good works in order for good to accept us. But the gospel teaches that God accepts us, therefore good works will follow. Religion in effect puts God in your debt, he owes you, whereas, in the gospel, we owe God everything. As a result it is vital to spend time explaining the difference between the gospel and religion.
I hope to explore these issues further and suggest some example ways in which the gospel can be presented to postmoderns in subsequent posts.